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Its time to put dreams into the soil

Garden Muse

In my wildest dreams I move plants around with the ease of editing text on the computer.

I click on the burgundy hellebores in the front border and drag them to the side garden. I plant them beneath the yellow-flowering winter hazel (Corylopsis), and behind the blue lungworts (Pulmonaria), so that creamy yellow, dark wine and pastel blue bloom together. In that same long border, hellebores splash color to the north and to the south of the winter hazel. One more drift would pull the bed together.

I drag and drop the orange flowering pomegranate from its place on the west side of the garage to the rectangular border farther south where the lavender chaste tree grows. Now, they will bloom together in August. Yes! I drag all the orange crocosmia hybrids, and all the blue balloon flowers from their scattered places in the garden, to the same bed, so that the blue and orange theme is concentrated in one place.

Next August would be so much more flamboyant if only I could click and drag the plants.

In real life, I leave sticky notes on the door to the garden reminding me to move these plants later on. Sticky note: Transplant pink or wine hellebores to the winter hazel area. Sticky note: Move flowering pomegranate, balloon flowers and crocosmia to the chaste tree border.

Now, in spring, the real transplanting work begins in earnest. It's the best time to move plants around - intermittent sunny and drizzly days are perfect for uprooting and resettling.

Renewing a challenging site

Renovating a hot, dry bed on the south side of my sweet gum tree is my latest project. The bed is oval, and was anchored by three mature Senecio greyii shrubs that had stoically grown in that harsh terrain for 15 years. They suffered so much winter damage this year, I summoned up courage and put them to rest.

Years of sweet gum leaf droppings have enriched the bed with natural compost, so it's ever so easy to plant in. But the tree's greedy roots and summer's heat will dry out the soil, so incoming plants must be especially drought tolerant. Here was a chance to start over and have fun creating a brand new design.

I toyed with the possibilities of California lilacs (Ceanothus), shrubby manzanitas, and rock roses (Cistus). I visited nurseries, browsed through plants and waited for signs of excitement. Like visiting an art gallery, where some paintings call out to me for a closer look, at a nursery some plants speak to me - whispering, 'Take me home!' Of all the shrubs I looked at, rock roses were the most enticing.

Native to dry and rocky Mediterranean regions, they should do well in a dry, sunny bed. But to learn how they've performed locally, especially after these past two winters, I checked with horticulturist Neil Bell, who conducted Cistus trials at the North Willamette Research and Experimental Station. He referred me to the OSU Department of Horticulture website (http://hort.oregonstate.edu) where trial results are posted.

Scrolling through the detailed report, I learned that 'Snow Fire' rock rose is rated high for winter hardiness and long bloom period. Four- to five-feet tall and spreading wider, it has white flowers marked by a central splash of burgundy, and gray-green leaves. I called Garden World (GardenWorldOnline.com) and yes, they had seven, so I raced down and selected three robust gallon pots.

Embellishing with perennials

Now that the three main shrubs are settled into the oval bed, I've been daydreaming about drought-tolerant perennials to fill in the picture. Sedums, lavender, rosemary, hardy cranesbills (Geranium), flowering onions (Allium) are all candidates.

Taking my sweet time to settle on the final details of this bed is a lot like coming to the end of a good novel, when I linger on the last chapter to make the book last longer. As I weed, I come upon some 'Matrona' sedums and realize they're growing where it was once sunny but now is partial shade.

Perhaps I'll 'drag' those to the new bed; or maybe I'll move the Spanish lavender from a damp island bed to this sunny and better draining place.

Meanwhile I look out the office window and see the freshly planted rock roses happily stretching their roots into their new homes. The planting fork is stuck in the ground, waiting for the perennials. The possibilities keep me happily dreaming.


Coming events

Newberg Camellia Festival, 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., April 10, Chehalem Cultural Center, 415 E. Sheridan, Newberg. Includes the Oregon Camellia Society's 69th Annual Show, live music, Ikebana demonstration, master gardener clinic, and free camellias, while they last. Event is free. For more information contact www.NewbergOregon.Gov or Denis Dooley, President Oregon Camellia Society, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .